Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday - 40: A Lenten Spiritual Program on the Web - First Lenten Sunday (Year B)

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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40 – A Lenten Series

In partnership with Loyola Press and Loyola Productions, the Jesuits in the United States are offering 40, a provocative and entertaining spiritual resource and companion for Lent 2012.

Context: 40 has been developed to invite a wide variety of audiences—from active Catholics to spiritual seekers—to (re)discover the spiritual journey and lessons of this vital season. It’s also been developed to offer teachers, ministers, and parents a different approach to engaging others in Lent.

40 is something of an experiment, both for its use of story and its web-based outreach through the Jesuit network…and beyond. By sharing 40 and related resources free of charge, their hope is to engage as many people as possible this Lent. By working with Loyola Press, Loyola Productions, the Jesuits are hopeful that this Lenten program will foster conversation and community in new and exciting ways.

More about 40: 40 is a web-based “post-apocalyptic drama” (akin to Lost) that begins on Ash Wednesday - February 22, 2012. In the debut episode, we are introduced to seven strangers who appear to be the only survivors of a mysterious event that has left Los Angeles empty, devoid of people.

From there the story unfolds throughout Lent in 14 episodes—2 per week—that run 4 to 7 minutes apiece. As a Lenten allegory, the themes of exile and journeying, loss and grief, hunger and thirst, mortification and fasting, sin and redemption, the path through the desert and the way of the Cross are dramatically “mirrored” by the story as it develops onscreen.

40 is accompanied by reflection questions and resources that can be used individually or in groups. These companion materials help viewers make connections between the storyline, scriptural references, and meaning of Lent.

You are invited to learn more and view the trailer at the 40

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First Sunday of Lent (Yr “B”)—February 26, 2012

[Texts: Genesis 9.8-15 [Psalm 25]; 1 Peter 3.18-22; Mark 1.12-15]

“Lent” derives from the Old English “lencten” and refers to the lengthening of the days as spring approaches. The renewal of the earth and of Christian life in baptism are linked.

The Second Vatican Council's decree on the renewal of the Sacred Liturgy stressed two features about Lent: that during it Christians recall their baptism—or prepare for it—and practice penance. 

Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, “the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God's word more frequently and devote more time to prayer.”

The traditional Lenten practices of prayer each day, fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, almsgiving to benefit the Share Lent campaign of Development and Peace—all are means to beg from God the grace of reconciliation so needed in human relationships, in each Christian's life.

In Genesis and First Peter, Noah and his family (“eight persons”, according to a tradition mentioned by Peter), figure prominently as symbols of God's desire to save people from the primeval flood and through the waters of baptism.

In the Bible God tempers divine justice, which requires the wicked to be punished for their sins, with mercy to the righteous that offers people hope.

For the author of Genesis, destruction cannot be God's final word.  Instead, salvation appears as God's ultimate purpose: “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth”.

The rainbow stands as a reminder to God of this covenant promise made to Noah “and every living creature of all flesh”.

The author of First Peter appropriates the ark theme in his baptismal homily. ‘Prefigured’ by the experience of Noah's family, the new ‘ark’ of the Church offers salvation through the waters of baptism.

Baptism is described “not as a removal of dirt from the body (as bathing might suggest), but as an appeal to God for a good conscience”.  This means that, for believers, the act of undergoing baptism is a commitment by them, in all good conscience, to make sure that what baptism symbolizes becomes a reality in their lives.

Peter's baptismal homily notes that Christ, after his suffering and resurrection, proclaimed the gospel to disobedient beings (“He went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison”). 

This obscure statement evokes a tradition that the Risen Lord, while ascending to God, declared his triumph over sin to spirits blamed for leading people astray in the rebellion that led to the flood.  This forever ended their spiritual and psychological hold over human beings.  Another interpretation holds that Christ preached to the souls of the people destroyed in Noah's flood.

The gospels of the first two Sundays in Lent focus on Our Lord's testing and transfiguration.  They remind disciples of the struggle against sin—individual and social—for which Christians do penance, and of the glory of Christ that awaits them in overcoming temptation and sin.

The gospels of the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent present selections from John's gospel, which tell of Christ's glorification through his Cross and resurrection. 

Passion (Palm) Sunday recalls Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and His sufferings.  The Passion Narrative brings Lent to a climax and leads into the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil).

On this first Lenten Sunday, Christians hear Mark's account of Jesus' testing, which is utterly spare: “Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him”.

Underlying this tradition is a contrast between Adam and Christ; the disobedience of Adam is contrasted with the obedience of Jesus.  Adam yielded to the tempter, leading to hostility with creation and hardships.

In overcoming the tempter's blandishments—left unmentioned—Jesus restored harmony to creation and lived on the nourishment provided by God's ministering angels. 

Thus, there comes about a new creation, a notion Paul applies to each believer's baptism into Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17).

Jesus is the second Adam, the obedient servant of God.  By his example, Jesus teaches disciples to overcome the temptations of life and to serve God along their individual paths of life in the world.

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